Porthtowan Tidal Pool

Our evening saunter to the pool showed a good deal of promise with sunshine breaking through down the coast and slowly the rent in the clouds widened, a wedge of blue sky being driven up the coast towards us until finally it swept the beach and the pool below.  Or to be more precise, where the pool would be but for the fact that it was swamped by roaring waves that shouted their voice up the angle of the cliff, blasting from the depths until it was snatched away by the wind across the heathland.

BigSplashSwimming
Wild Swimming

We returned the following morning picking our way cautiously down the worn and broken concrete steps from 100 feet up the cliff.  Some of the steps were missing altogether and all were covered in loose gravel and detritus washed down by the overnight downpour.  20 feet above the pool the steps ended, completely washed away.  It was a tricky climb down, traversing the rock face to keep to the natural cracks and handholds, not a climb for anyone who has not spent a lot of time doing such things.  Only once down was it evident that the tide had receded sufficiently that it would be possible to reach the pool from the beach across the rocks so Lucy set off  back over the hill and around the beach route.

The pool was enveloped in shade, frustrating as the beach was  in full sun and we could feel the brightness creeping towards us with glacial slowness.

The pool is not big nor anywhere more than 5 feet deep, but based on the evidence of concrete fragments still clutching the rocks it had once been both bigger and deeper.  It was nevertheless our secluded and solitary sanctuary in which we swam, dived and lazily floated for 20 minutes, pausing now and then to lean on the wall and check on the slow progress of the sunshine in our direction and the equally slow progress of the tide in the opposite direction.

BigSplashSwimming
Wild Swimming

We neither of us wanted to leave the water as from here we were homeward bound at the end of an extremely happy few days.  Even out of the water and wrapped in our towels there was no rush to dry and dress, instead eeking out the very last moment before finally bowing to the inevitable.  Let’s not leave it so long next time.

 

 

My 100 Swims South-West Google map.

The Song of the Sea

The rain eased yesterday afternoon but returned with a vengeance in the evening which rather derailed our plan for a second swim of the day from Treen Beach and drove us instead into the Logan Inn for warming steak and ale pies.  The morning dawns dull and mizzly.  However my plan for the day still includes Nanjizal Beach and Zawn Pyg; ‘The Song of the Sea’, a tall, thin natural sea arch.

BigSplashSwimming
Wild Swimming

The walk along the South-West Coast Path from Porthgwarra gives us fleeting views through the mist of the sea crashing in full fury on the granite rocks below, the water’s surface is wound with trails of foam but we count 4 seals riding the swells.  Whilst the sea looks unpromising the headlands are a stunning carpet of pink heathers and yellow furze stunted into low, rolling pillows by the incessant wind.  The house that stands sentry above the beach looms into view, briefly, before fading up into the clouds as we descend the steps.

I had hoped for a golden expanse of sand, that’s how it looks in the postcards but the sea has stripped the beach back to thrown and tumbled rocks and pebbles slicked with a sheen of water.  The scramble to the entrance to the zawn is slow and slowly it opens in front of us.

A shovel of sand ribbed by the waves has been left as a carpet in the first pool and it is home to a small shoal of sand eels that dart amongst the brown kelp fronds.  We swim down the first pool, drawn down by the winking eye in the cliff ahead.  Another clamber over fallen boulders and into the second, deeper pool.

The cliff folds into a tunnel overhead.  Gusts of wind sweep through the tunnel carrying the sound of crashing surf and the larger waves slop through the boulders at the seaward end raising a slight swell in the pool.  Small fronds of brown seaweed glow with blue iridescence and the walls are mottled with orange and green carpets of sponge and thickly dotted  with tiny cushion stars, each of which has the tips of its arms curled up revealing a point of orange against the dark background.

We retrace our swim emerging to an overcast sky that nevertheless seems blinding after the darkness.

After drying and changing a clamber back across the rocks is as good a way to warm up as any.  I am just stepping between rocks when a fleck of verdigris catches my eye.  Picking the piece from between 2 tightly packed pebbles most of the green flakes away revealing bright pink copper and the vague outline of King Edward VIII, a not quite 100 year old penny.  It has not been quite the picture postcard swim envisaged  it’s true, but it is certainly one of a kind and found pennies always bring good luck, so it is with a great sense of optimism that I begin the slog back up the steps towards the coffee that is waiting for me 2 miles away at the van.

 

My 100 Swims South-West Google map.

Mist and Surf

The camper van we have hired for the week is parked broadside on to the wind and rocks erratically in the gusts which carry palpably solid looking clumps of mist amongst the fine drizzle.  Twelve hours is a long time in English weather, what happened to yesterday evening’s sweltering sunshine?

The beach is all but deserted, with just a few trails of footprints leading to forlorn wandering people singly or gathered in clusters.  It is a scene somewhat reminiscent of  one from the film’I Robot’   One man stands hopefully in surf up to his knees, yet the mist seems to actually bleed the colour from the landscape and the prospect of sunshine is a pipedream.  Maybe if we take a short walk along the coast path?

BigSplashSwimming
Wild Swimming

An hour later and nothing has changed except a few more people willing to brave the damp have come to huddle in whatever shelter from the wind they can find.  Swim?  Silly question.  Though for the moment let’s pretend not to have seen the signs warning of rip currents and telling us not to swim at low tide.  It is low tide.  We will however swim from the sheltered beach where I can see the water and can be confident that there are no unforeseen hazards so long as we keep inside of the headland.

The water is significantly cooler than it was yesterday on the south coast just 4 miles away and not as clear.  I have barely swum 5m just clear of the towering black rock pinnacle when I spot the head of a seal bobbing not 20m away.  I tread water hoping Lucy will catch up and see it but after a few moments the stand off ends as it slides beneath the surface.  I have been bitten a number of times by seals whilst swimming, blood and everything, but I am fairly confident in this clear water that he will stay well clear.  A few minutes later and his head bobs up again but now well out across the bay 100m away.

Asides from the two of us no-one seems remotely tempted, maybe they have taken the signs at face value, maybe they don’t fancy the cold.  They are not wrong, my finger tips have got that numb feeling which is a sure sign it is time to get out.

The tide has turned and is now racing in, the largest waves just reach out to the base of the rock our kit is on.  As we change the sky brightens and the mist lifts.  Oh no we’ve missed the sunshine, but no it is only a prelude to drizzle, which by the time we reach the van has turned into full on rain.  Looks like our timing was spot on after all.

 

My 100 Swims South-West Google map.

Serpentine

It is high tide and the beach below the car park has been reduced to a narrow sandy strip.  We assume it is sandy as the remaining people are packed just about close enough to carpet the beach in towels and windbreaks.  Fortunately though we have walked from the campsite and it is just a little extra distance to walk over the headland and down to other part of the beach which is more thinly populated.

The easterly wind is still with us from yesterday and though Kennack Sands is more sheltered than Towan Beach was the surf is no less.  The water however is if anything even bluer and though not as stunningly sandy the rocks more than make up for it.  This beach is within the area known as ‘The Lizard’ and here the rocks are ancient remnants of the Earth’s mantle, the zone starting 70km below the surface, which were forced to the surface by continental collisions.  Geologically speaking this is something of a rarity and the mantle peridotite rock has been altered into richly coloured and much veined serpentine with a little ocean floor basalt caught up and thrown into the mix.  It is easy to see where the name serpentine comes from as great patches of rock surface are cracked, crazed and patterned like snake skin.

The waves here take more of a run up without quite as dramatic an excavation at the surf line and it is far easier to get into the calmer water.  It is clearer than ever it gets back in Torbay and swimming back and forth the ripples in the sand across the sea bed are quite clear even down to a depth of 20 feet, with here and there a dark rock breaking the monotony.  And it feels warm enough to stay in all day though it is now well past 6pm and it’s a fair hike back up the hill so it is time to go.

 

 

My 100 Swims South-West Google map.

Cornish Surf

From the campsite high on the hill yet a mile distant from Towan Beach we can hear the endless rumble of surf driven by the warm, easterly breeze.  The sound fades and rises again on the walk down the hill and by the creek behind the hill there is no breeze and the sound is carried high over our heads so instead all we can hear is the swish and plop of the countless grey mullet that are feeding over high tide on the unwary creatures that have come to the surface of the mud in response to the encroaching water.

The beach is a wide expanse of golden sand, the sky is deep blue in the early evening sunshine and the water is clear aqua-green except where it erupts in white foam in the short, sharp surf.  Each crashing wave scoops away at the sand so that one moment we are knee deep in foam the next waist deep in the battering waves.  This is the best sea I think I have seen all year.

It proves surprisingly hard to get beyond the surf.  The waves suddenly increase in height lifting us up and throwing us back towards the beach.  This explains why no-one else is swimming, but on the other hand we are not going to get swept out to sea.

And I’m back at the beach.

I’m going to try that again only with more determination this time, if I can just get out beyond the breakers.

The last wave threatens to throw me back to the beach again, it lifts me up and just begins to break as I tumble over the crest into the choppy but otherwise clear water.  As I rise up I can see the beach as I fall back all I can see is blue sky and swooping gulls.

Eventually though I have to ride back through the surf to be tumbled back onto the sand only hoping there will be more of the same as the week goes on.

Before we leave however I notice right by the footpath 2 prominent ‘frost fingers’ in the compacted material of the little cliff, signs that this area was once subjected to tundra conditions when swimming would have been far more challenging.

 

My 100 Swims South-West Google map.

Ride the Tide

Swimming from the rowing club at Totnes can be an interesting balancing act between tide and river flow, time, and of course how far you want to go; though the idea here was to swim upstream through the town as far as the weir, which is 1.4 (ish) miles.  That takes about an hour and so to get to the weir before running out of water when the tide turned meant starting by 6pm at the very latest. But it was a big spring tide to give maximum push upstream against the slightly raised river flow after two days of rain.

The water looked an unappealing dull brown, the surface dotted with small items of flotsam and jetsam flowing very slowly downstream.  That’s to be expected even on an incoming tide as the river separates into 2 levels, the incoming tide flows up the river bed, lifting the river water which flows outwards at the surface.  Maybe it was the rain water or maybe just the lack of sunshine but the water was also an unappealing and unseasonably cool 16.7C

The rowing club was also practicing.  They are used to swimmers just once a year as the club hosts the start of the River Dart 10k event and though I swim there at other times it can be early morning when no-one is rowing.  the problem is of course that rowers have their backs to the direction of travel, they should keep a lookout, but they are not going to.  Fortunately it’s a wide river and amongst the moored boats is a no go zone for the rowers, so it’s not so much of a problem.

BigSplashSwimming
Wild Swimming

The 7 of us were there to swim at our own pace which meant we quickly separated into a 2:3:2 pattern with me leading the group of three.  The water did not taste as brackish as normally it does though visibility was arm’s length and no more and it was not all that cold so I was really enjoying myself.  By the town bridge there was a slight upstream flow as far as the new road bridge where a line of flotsam and jetsam in the water marked the meeting of river and tide.

Swimming became noticeably harder as the further upstream we went from here the more river flow there was a against us.  The Pair ahead of me were soon out of sight around the turn and going like rockets.  Our little group of three had strung out a bit and the other pair were no longer in sight. From the river bend to the weir the banks are trees or fields and it could be out in open country as distinct from only a few meters from the industrial estate.

Beyond the railway and footbridges swimming was much harder, the water was appreciably chilly now and for some reason there were waves coming down river which I’d not met here before.  The source of those was the 2 huge Archimedes screws that have been installed for power generation, each 3m in diameter and the water foamed and thrashed where it discharged.

The swim downstream with the flow began well for me but at the bend in the river I hit ‘the wall’ and simply ran out of energy and in a very short distance the 3 of us that had again been swimming as a close group very quickly became the 2 of them with me trailing well behind, so much so that by the town bridge they were out of sight.  A bright football bobbed in the reeds and under other circumstances I’d have nabbed it, but not today.

At the ferry quay I was sufficiently tired that I considered getting out and walking the last few 100m, but, A) I wasn’t prepared to give up, and B) that was in no small part because it would have been rather embarrassing to throw in the towel.  All told though it must have been very close to the expected 1 hour to the weir and 55 minutes back.

2 weeks and we’ll ride the tide again.

 

My 100 Swims South-West Google map.

 

Solitary Swimmer

Maidencombe Beach was deserted.  It was only 9:30 it was true but it was also a perfect summer morning with barely any breeze and the beach faces due east into the morning sunshine.  surely I couldn’t have it to myself. But I did.  The water appeared deep blue to almost black against the reflected sunshine and it was flat calm with nothing you could even pretend was a wave lapping at the shore.

Rather than swim from the beach this seemed like the perfect opportunity on the receding tide to walk out onto the slab of rocks jutting out into the sea and swim down around the submerged rocks.

My isolation did not last more than 5 minutes and as I was wriggling into my swimming shorts, wet and clingy from the last swim only half an hour ago, the next people came plodding down the steep, hairpin steps.

The water was full of ghostly ‘crystal jellyfish’ (Aequorea victoria) which, seen from above, were almost invisible against the seaweed and sand. But seen from below against the blue sky with the sunshine lighting up their ethereal bodies they shone out like silk parachutes.

A shoal of sand eels  darted amongst the rocks glittering as they twisted and turned.  On the bottom a small fish buried itself into the sand with a small puff of grains and a small starfish spread out motionless.  A large dog whelk shell lay conspicuously on the sand and fetching it back to the surface the hermit crab that had set up home there waved a long ferocious claw at me as it squeezed further into the spiral recess.  then there was just a single solitary compass jelly beating its way down into deeper water.

Back at my towel I scanned the beach which was filling rapidly, I will have to remember to get here early next time too.

My 100 Swims South-West Google map.